Characterization Pointers for Writing Flash Fiction

Making Characters Standout in Flash Fiction

Bringing characters to life in flash fiction is as imperative as having a captivating plot.Ignore either element, by under-developing character or plot, and you ruin your story. You will fail to engage your reader, and your story might as well line the bottom of a parakeet cage.Putting all the elements of CharacterConflictAction,Dialogue, and Resolution into a flash fiction tale is tough because of the limited amount of words you have in which to tell your story. Each word you use to construct sentences, to convey ideas and images, does matter.

You, as an artful storyteller, must paint a visual picture inside your reader’s mind of the world, moments, and characters within your tale. That world, that moment, and that character must seem real to the reader. Don’t rely on stereotypes to get the reader to visualize your character.  Convey your character and what is going on within your story as you see it.

Since it is your story, you have to tell it to us in a way that makes us see what’s going on.

In reviewing thousands of story submissions over the past 7 years, I can tell you that writing flash and micro fiction is truly and art. When you read a story that combines all story elements clearly and concisely, employing engaging characters and an intriguing plot, you come away satisfied.

As a writer, I can assure you flash fiction is a challenge.  Rewriting and tweaking is a must.

Flash fiction, like any other piece of fiction, relies on how well you can paint a picture with words. Your words must come alive for the reader.  Your story must touch them in some way.  When viewers of art appreciate what they see they walk away feeling enlightened. If your story lingers in the minds of your readers after they have finished reading it, you have succeeded in painting a vivid picture that touched them.

Developing an Engaging Character Quickly Catches a Reader’s Interest

Since flash fiction hinges on making every word count you want to attract reader interest immediately.  Within the first 2-3 sentences of the story and most definately by the 2-3 paragraph.

Your characters have to be developed well enough to ensure tthey evoke Reader Empathy.  You want readers to identify with your character and to care about what happens to them.

How do you do this?

By providing a character that does 2 things:

1. The Character Offers Something Unique.

2. The Character Offers Something Familiar.

Characters that offer something unique, in who they are, what they do, feel, or think within the story, intrigue reader.

Characters who also provide something familiar, be it a job, circumstance, inner turmoil, outward reaction, or physical attribute, raises empathy. Readers begin to identify with the character. They say, “Hey, that could be me.”, and ask, “What would I do in that situation?”

How to Convey Well-Rounded, Believable Characters in Flash Fiction
When word count matters, it is important to Show not Tell.  In flash fiction there isn’t enough words alloted to allow your to reveal much of backstory.  There isn’t time for lengthy descriptions about your character’s physical appearance.  You can’t waste space or words depicting their myriad of quirks and interests.

The best way to Show who your character is and to Tell readers about your character is ensure the character in your story is an Active Character.

By using Action and Character Introspection, you reveal how your character thinks and feels.

Active Characters react to what is happening to them. They respond through their actions, what they say, and what they think.  And they must respond in a believable manner.  If their actions defy logic, given their circumstances, there must be a reason why they reacted in such an illogical manner.  You must convey that reason to the reader through either dialogue or character introspection, i.e. by revealing the character’s thoughts.

Unique Characters exists above the norm, above preconceived notions of who and what they are, i.e. above stereotypes. They have impact and appeal both internally and externally like the contents of a best-selling novel with a glossy and enticing front cover.

Character Action is not just the play-by-play of what the character does physically, but what the character says and thinks ~ how the character speaks and thinks in response to what is happening within the story.

An Example?  Sure.  I’ll give you a good one from a story we published in the April/May issue of AlienSkin Magazine called, Five Reasons You’re Not in Heaven, written by D. R. Dane.

See if you can pinpoint something Unique and something Familiar in this brief depiction of characterization.

Roland Hatter cringed slightly under the tightening grip of the table restraints. The man in the white coat wheeled an IV stand around and inserted three lines, two into his arm and one into his leg.

“I’m scared,” said the man lying on the bed.

“Mr. Hatter,” said the doctor. “You want to go to Heaven, don’t you?”

This opening sequence makes you want to read more doesn’t it? There are two offers of Uniqueness in Character in this snippet.

One is presented in our first glimpse of Roland Hatter. He is a man strapped to a table. You might argue that it is the situation that is unique not the character, and you would indeed be partially right.

Readers would read on to see what develops of this situation.  But, they would also read on to see what Roland Hatter does.  They want to know why he is restrained. They’re curious to know if he will escape or if he will he be tortured in some way. Such curiosity makes Roland Hatter and his predicament interesting to us.

The second uniqueness in character offered in this short piece comes from the Doctor by way of what he has to offer. How can he offer Heaven? How can he ensure his patient will go to Heaven? What sort of Heaven is he referring to?

The Doctor also makes us want to read on.

The Familiars within the piece are easy to spot.

Roland’s apparent fear. The Doctor’s actions with the medical equipment and his conveyed demeanor of calmness in how he responds to Roland’s fear.

As an opening, this introduction of the characters makes them stand out.

The writer has succeeded in making us want to read more. We want to know the fate of Roland. We want to know what the Doctor is about to do to him.